Tag Archives: François Leleux

SCO / Leleux

City Halls, Glasgow

It is a terrible thing to say of a Frenchman, especially one who cuts a sartorial dash on the podium, but Francois Leleux is not the most elegant of conductors in his gestures. He is, however, supremely eloquent, his intention always clear and his stick hand unafraid to ensure that everyone is on the beat.

So the unusual lack of sparkle in some of the playing from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on Friday night was not down to him, and nor could the blame be laid at the door of the SCO winds, who tend to pull out all the stops for their kindred spirit, whether or not Leleux is actually playing his oboe.

Best guess might be in the absence of familiar faces leading the lower strings, although the guest musicians in their place were all quality performers in their own right. The difference was perhaps marginal, but detectable, especially after the interval with a perfectly fine, but not in any way exceptional, account of Schubert’s Symphony No 4, the somewhat ill-named “Tragic”, and in Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, which preceded it and was less meteorologically dramatic than it can be.

The more interesting music was in the first half, when Leleux was the soloist in fellow oboist Andreas Tarkmann’s recent arrangement for oboe and strings of Mendelssohn’s popular piano pieces, Songs Without Words. Leleux played six of the seven, chosen it would seem for the contrasts they offered. Here was the small double-reed instrument showing off its full range and a dazzling tonal palette. It would be wrong to describe the result as a demonstration of virtuosity, rather it is a showpiece for the capabilities of the instrument.

It is said that Louise Farrenc was acclaimed by Paris in the same era as Mendelssohn for the novelty of her gender as a composer as much as for the quality of the music. Contemporary sexism, on the other hand, simply underrates her if her Symphony No 3 in G Minor from 1847 is any guide. She clearly owes a debt to Beethoven, but there is no plagiarism in her work, rather a shared language and compositional techniques, particularly in the outer movements.

The heart of the work is a beautifully-shaped, if melodically unmemorable slow movement, with first clarinet Maximiliano Martin in the lead role, and a terrific Scherzo, which trips along at pace and has the better tune.

Keith Bruce

BBC SSO / Leleux

City Halls, Glasgow

One of the curious outcomes of the past 20 months, where orchestras have trawled the catalogues for music suited to restricted numbers, has been the emergence of obscure repertoire and neglected composers. Now, slightly perversely, these composers are surfacing repeatedly. One example is the 19th century French composer Louise Farrenc. She came to light last season courtesy of the SCO. Here she was again, in the company of Mendelssohn and Mozart, in a concert by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

It was short and sweet, her brief but bullish Overture No 1 in E minor lasting a mere 7 minutes, but how well it held its head high in such illustrious company. Helping make its point was French oboist-cum-conductor François Leleux, whose flirtatious charisma secured a shapely, directional performance. If there are clear echoes of Beethoven in Farrenc’s motivic shape and structure, there is also a suppleness of invention that is nearer to Schumann and preemptive even of Wagner. Like so much of this programme, the SSO was in a resilient mood.

This was in a second half that ended with Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony, delivered with the same illuminating clarity that had already made such a distinctive impression prior to the interval. Leleux had opened with the same composer’s overture for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, failing for a brief moment to pull the strings convincingly together in the scurrying fairy dust opening. But it was a transient issue, cancelled immediately in a performance notable thereafter for its delicious textural subtleties and gripping expressiveness.

Then a piece of virtual theatre. Leleux, now armed with oboe, took on the dual role of soloist and director in his own suite of arrangements of six operatic arias by Mozart, selected from The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni. This was the jewel of the evening, facilitated as much by the skilfulness of Leleux’s virtuoso adaptations – from thrill-a-minute ornamentation of the melodies to mischievous quirks in which he pinched instrumental snippets for himself – as by the extraordinary, often whimsical, versatility of his dazzling technique. Needless to say, encores were demanded and duly delivered.

There was a sense in Leleux’s relationship with the SSO that the chemistry between them was increasing by the minute. So when it came to the closing Mendelssohn symphony it simply breezed along. Again, irrepressible energy and tight-knit detail informed the performance. But there was a natural sweetness in the Andante, and an effortless elegance in the minuet that countered the Mediterranean tang of the outer movements.  

Ken Walton

This concert will be broadcast on Radio 3 and BBC Sounds on 14 October, thereafter available to stream or download for 30 days